Janeane from Des Moine is a very confused and unsatisfying film. Here is a movie that tries to be part political documentary and part fictional melodrama and fails on both levels. It is one thing to make a bad movie, it is quite another to make a movie that is dishonest. That this film is a drama about partisan politics makes it all the more manipulative and phony.
Directed by Grace Lee, the film is set up like a documentary with a fictional narrative. The documentary part examines one woman's journey through each of the presidential candidates for the Republican Party and asks how they intend to help the ordinary citizen who is struggling under Obama's administration. The fictional end follows the misfortunes of Janeane Wilson, a frumpy Iowa housewife in her late-40s who is facing desperate times. Her husband Frank has lost his job, and with it their health insurance. The bank is about to foreclose on their house, and worse, Janeane has lumps in both breasts which she has left untreated for four months in hopes that they would go away. These problems are putting a strain on their marriage because Frank is satisfied to curl up in a ball of self-pity. The question of getting on unemployment never seems to occur to either of them.
Janeane figures that the answer to her problems is to visit the Republican caucuses and to beg each of the candidates, Michelle Bachman, Ron Paul, Mit Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry and Herman Caine to help her family out of their financial woes. We see her questioning the candidates and asking if they can get her out of her situation. What they offer her - we're not surprised - is standard, positive boilerplate political palaver. Janeane is not shy about her convictions. She is a hard-nosed evangelical conservative Republican who hates Planned Parenthood, homosexuals, Obamacare, and anything to do with the current administration. She also believes whole-heartedly that a politician can get her out of the financial rut. Meanwhile, we get dramatic (fictional) moments in her daily life. She is constantly at odds with husband Frank, a man who has been defeated by life and has given up. He is sullen, distant and always in a bad mood. Janeane is seen as the good guy. She makes an appointment with a counselor but he refuses to go. Where their marriage ends up is quite predictable.
Things go from bad to worse and so we might expect that Janeane would look at the options available to her. She might pick up where Frank is failing and try to get her family out of their financial crisis. But she doesn't. She holds hard and fast to the belief that the next President of the United States will be able to help her get out of her problems.
That's the chief problem with the movie. We sympathize with Janeane but we can't help but question her motives. She has institutions that she can look to in order to help her, but instead she visits politicians who, even if they could help her, wouldn't be able to do anything for her. You sit there scratching your head as you wait for an epiphany from this misguided woman that she is going about things all wrong. In a crisis state in which you are about to lose your house, why would you spend your time parked in front of an abortion clinic daring people to go in?